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Auto Execs Plead for $34B Bailout

The chief executives of Detroit’s struggling Big Three automakers returned to Capitol Hill Thursday to plead for a $34 billion taxpayer bailout. Speaking before the Senate Banking Committee, General Motors CEO Richard Wagoner asked for the biggest haul, totaling $18 billion.

Richard Wagoner: "To that end, our plan respectfully requests $12 billion in short-term loans and a $6 billion line of credit. We are seeking an immediate loan of $4 billion and potentially a second draw of up to $4 billion in January reflecting the current very weak state of automotive production and demand."

GM says it faces bankruptcy without $4 billion in federal loans by the end of the month, with billions more needed in 2009. Lawmakers said they were not convinced that the automakers could return to profitability even with a massive infusion of government cash. Chrysler was next, asking for $7 billion by the end of the year. Ford says it doesn’t need an immediate loan but requested access to a $9 billion line of credit. The hearing was briefly interrupted when a group of protesters began yelling “the bailout is a sellout” before being removed from the room. The car company executives are set to appear again today before the House Financial Services Committee.

Iraqi Presidential Council Approves Troop Pact

Iraq’s three-member Presidency Council has approved the status of forces agreement with the US, the last step needed for its adoption by the Iraqi government. The deal calls for a US withdrawal by the end of 2011. The Iraqi parliament approved it last week after agreeing to hold a national referendum in July.

11 Iraqis, 2 US Troops Killed in Iraq Violence

Violence is raging in several areas across Iraq. Seven Iraqis were killed and more than a hundred were wounded in a double truck bombing in Fallujah. In Jalawla, four people were killed and thirteen wounded when attackers opened fire on a civilian car. And in Mosul, two American soldiers were killed and nine Iraqi civilians were wounded in a car bomb attack near a checkpoint.

Jewish Settlers Attack Palestinians in Hebron

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Jewish settlers have unleashed a new wave of attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron. On Thursday, settlers shot at Palestinians, set fire to homes and olive groves, and defaced mosques and graves after Israeli troops evicted a group of settlers from a disputed Palestinian-owned home near a biblical site. Hebron resident Hussni Abu Issifan was among the Palestinian victims of settler gunfire.

Hussni Abu Issifan: "The (settlers) attacked us at the house and fired live bullets on us with a handgun, and they shot my father. Then later, they set the house on fire. There was only a few meters between us, maybe one or one-and-a-half meters. He probably had his hand on the gun, as well, when he shot my father."

Israel Lifts Gaza Ban on Journalists, Aid Workers

Meanwhile, Israel says it will allow foreign journalists and aid workers to enter the Gaza Strip for the first time in four weeks. Israel has barred reporters from Gaza since November 4th. Meanwhile, banks across the Gaza Strip have closed their doors because of a shortage of bank notes caused by the Israeli blockade.

Report: Israel Prepares Iran Strike Plans

The Jerusalem Post is reporting the Israeli military has drawn up new plans for an attack on Iran that do not include cooperation with the United States. An Israeli official said Israel would prefer to cooperate with the US if it bombs Iran but would still draw up plans in case it decides to act alone. It’s the latest in a series of news reports said to originate from anonymous Israeli government officials on plans to strike Iran.

Canadian PM Forces Parliament Closure to Avoid No-Confidence Vote

In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has succeeded in shutting down Parliament to avoid a vote that would have thrown him out of office. Three opposition parties formed a coalition to oust Harper after he tried to introduce a series of controversial measures, including an attempt to end public financing of election campaigns. Harper said he would try to push through a new budget when parliament reconvenes.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper: "On my advice, the Governor General has agreed to prorogue Parliament. Last Friday, I asked Canadians to give us their opinions on the parliamentary situation. That feedback has been overwhelming and very clear. They want Canada’s government to continue to work on the agenda that Canadians voted for: our plan to strengthen the economy. When Parliament resumes on January 26, the first order of business will be the presentation of a federal budget."

Harper’s Conservative Party won a narrow re-election in October with just 37 percent of the popular vote. It’s the first time in Canadian history a prime minister has sought to shut down Parliament to avoid a no-confidence measure.

Obama Appears to Drop Oil Windfall Tax Proposal

Back in the United States, President-elect Barack Obama is coming under criticism for apparently backtracking on a campaign promise for a windfall tax on oil company profits. The American Small Business League says the Obama campaign has deleted the windfall tax proposal from its transition website. An Obama aide said the windfall tax proposal was only introduced when oil was above eighty dollars a barrel.

Frank Urges Greater Obama Role During Transition

Meanwhile, Obama is coming under criticism from an influential Democratic Congress member for deferring to President Bush on handling the economic crisis during the transition. On Thursday, Congress member Barney Frank, the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, said, “At a time of great crisis with mortgage foreclosures and autos, [Obama] says we only have one president at a time. I’m afraid that overstates the number of presidents we have. He’s got to remedy that situation.”

Study: Violence Linked to Laxer Gun Laws

A new study has found states with laxer gun laws have had the highest rates of handgun-related violence. Killings, police officer shootings and cross-state violence were all highest in states that made it easiest to purchase weapons. The study was underwritten by a group of more than 300 US mayors.

Bank of America to Stop Investing in Mountaintop Removal

In environmental news, Bank of America has announced it will stop investing in mining companies specializing in the controversial practice of mountaintop removal. In recent years, Bank of America facilitated hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to companies like Massey Energy and Arch Coal that are involved in mountaintop removal coal mining. In a statement, the bank said it would change its policy in response to public pressure led by environmental groups.

Online Journalists Top Media Jailings

In media news, a new report by the Committee to Protect Journalists says more internet journalists are jailed today than journalists in any other medium. 45 percent of all jailed media workers, around fifty-six people, work in online media. Print journalists were next, with fifty-three currently jailed.

Blackwater Could Face Charges Under 30-Year Old Drug Law

And the private military firm Blackwater Worldwide could finally be seeing charges for the killings of seventeen Iraqis in Baghdad in September of last year. The Associated Press reports Justice Department officials are considering charging Blackwater under a federal drug law that calls for a thirty-year prison sentence for using machine guns in violent crimes. Blackwater has yet to face charges for the massacre, with government officials citing uncertain legal framework for prosecuting American contractors in Iraq.

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